Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ms. Fox, Ms. Fox

::: Ms. Fox, Meet The Kids:::

I walked into Quitman Elementary last week wide-eyed and ready to teach, as well as ready to learn. When I stepped into the classroom for the first time I was struck by the unfamiliar feeling of being tall. All the miniature chairs, low sinks, and small tables sent a strange sense of reality through my body. I am a teacher. I am in charge of teaching these little kids about respect, life, and how to master objective after objective so they can pass the state assessments.

I have now seen seven days in front of the classroom and each day seems to present it’s own challenges. Classroom management has proven to be one of my biggest struggles. Even the simple task of taking the kids to the bathroom can turn into mass chaos if the paper towels run out. I can see that I have a long ways to go before I can confidently call myself a teacher.

For the first part of last week my students called me Ms. Fox. I was fairly impressed that they made some sort of unspoken connection between a wolf and a fox but couldn’t allow them to call me by the wrong name. Each day I had to reinforce that I was in fact Ms. Wolff, their teacher and they needed to call me Ms. Wolff. It wasn’t until one of the boys piped up and said, “Oh, I get it. Your name’s Ms. Wolff ‘cause you got them fangs.”


I have learned a lot this past week that I really do not know how to love people unconditionally. Teaching and managing a classroom with two other rookie teachers tests your patience and communication skills. We spend so much time together it is so easy to get on each other’s nerves, and I have found that I have a shorter fuse than I once thought. There have been a several apologizes and moments of humility for me. God has been showing me that it is in the hard times that I must take joy, for the testing of my faith produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope, and hope does not disappoint us!

It has also been hard for me to love all of my students. Oh, how hard it is to love the students that consistently disrupt class! But I pray that I may have patience and love overflowing for these kids.

:::What A Weekend:::

After my first week I felt like I was drowning in TFA world. On Friday I went out for pizza with some friends and ended up falling asleep on a friends couch while watching an episode of Myth Busters (it was the one where they try to confirm/bust all the conspiracy theories about the USA landing on the moon).

Saturday I woke up early and went with a friend to the local farmers market. You know you are in a small town when the only directions you can find say, “The market is located on the grassy lawn behind the post office”. That would help if I first knew where the post office was! Once we found the market, we browsed through the five-stand selection. I left with a bag of plum tomatoes for a dollar and a bag of corn on the cob for four. Not a bad morning.

We stopped at a local donut shop on the way back and got some chocolate milk and donut holes. I did some laundry, mopped the bathroom floor, and cleaned my room. Then my friend made me some French Pressed coffee, we got some lunch to-go and headed on our way to a local park about thirty minutes away. This park had a lookout tower over the Mississippi River and was the perfect getaway. We played guitar, read, napped, and breathed for two hours. Before Saturday it had been a long time since I had actually breathed. Like noticed my own breathing and enjoyed doing it. It is a precious thing.

We came back to campus and I met up with some people to lesson plan. Then we jetted to Sonic for some ice cream and cheese sticks. Went shopping at the local Wal-Mart and then the Dollar Tree and then called it a night. It was a very relaxing yet enjoyable Saturday.

Sunday started off with a 20 minute run and then church. It was a mellow work day in which I tried to be productive, and was to some extent, but really ended up just getting done what I needed to get done, went on another run with a friend, and then hit the sack.

:::Tiny Hands:::

The past two weeks I have been reading a lot from the ministry Tiny Hands International. This ministry is based out of Lincoln, Nebraska but does a lot of work over in Nepal to help house orphans as well as fight the sex-trafficking industry. http://www.tinyhandsinternational.org/

This ministry continues to bring healthy doses of perspective into my life. The past few weeks has been a time of overwhelming emotions at times.I thought I was lonely and unsure, uncomfortable and stressed - but reading about the 10,000 girls in Nepal who get sold into sex-trafficking each year and all of the sudden my struggles seem so insignificant. Now I can't say that I shouldn't feel anything bad or that it isn't okay for me to feel alone sometimes or sad or stressed... I am not saying that. But in all reality I have been so blessed and I have the love of my Heavenly Father and Creator, a supportive family and friends, a stable place to sleep at night and so much more. I have been given True Life. Is there anything more?

:::Fall Placement:::

I just received an email a few hours ago with a spreadsheet with all of the TENTATIVE placements that have been made in the Delta so far for this coming school year. There are 275 corps members in the Delta and only a little over half have been placed. But, guess what! My name was on there. Now, nothing is for sure and nothing is set but here is what it said in the spreadsheet.

Coahoma Co: Not Sure Where : )

Wolff, Sally

I am not sure what that means, because everyone else has a “School Name & Grade Level” where mine says “Not Sure Where”. All I have is a county! But, hey that is a start! All I can do is pray that it would get finalized as soon as possible and I would end up where the Lord would desire me to be. Thank you for everyone who has been praying!

:::July 4th:::

This weekend BB King is going to be in town and we have Monday off from school. That means if anyone wants to come visit this weekend would be the time! Did I mention I have Monday off?

:::Good Night:::

I would like to end this blog by pasting in something I wrote earlier in the week in an email.

I don't know how to give everything to the Lord. But I do know that it is better when I am humbled and am relying totally on His strength and the direction of the Spirit. It is so tempting for me to try to take control of my class and do it my way... but I pray the Lord will open up my eyes to Him and how He wants me to be used in this place. May He grant me with eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to love, feet to serve, and a quiet tongue.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mosquitoes, Early Mornings, and Humility

:::First Day Of School:::

I have found that most days I have an ongoing dialogue in my head. Life here in Mississippi has made me very aware of my surroundings and myself. It is almost like all of my senses are constantly working to take everything in. Maybe I have developed this habit because I only know a few people here and so I need someone to talk to, which most conveniently and somewhat embarrassingly has become myself. Either I am becoming more independent and self-reflective or just plain crazy. It is still too early to tell.

Currently I am on the bus riding to Quitman Elementary for my first day of summer school. There are only a few perks to waking up at 4:45am every morning. I have experienced some of the most vibrant sunrises I have ever seen. This part of Mississippi is very similar to Nebraska: flat. This morning sent a special fog over the endless cotton and rice fields, which reflected the pink and purple sky, which made the 1 hour bus ride manageable and it almost caused me to forget what unknown territory is ahead of me.

The next five weeks I will be teaching a group of 24 hopeful first graders. Most of them passed kindergarten but some are attending summer school to “work hard and get smart”, one of TFA’s famous sayings/beliefs. I will be sharing a classroom with two other TFA corps members. We each have our own blocks in which we teach the classroom by ourselves however we also work together to help fine tune lesson plans and develop classroom management.

Last week we spent most of our time learning more about how to create the ever so infamous lesson plan. I can say with humility and passion that I already to not like very necessary lesson plan. The past week has been full of a lot of work and little sleep.

With late night Wal-Mart runs and early morning shuffles to the cafeteria to eat breakfast and pack my lunch I find my self with little room for “me time”. The only thing that keeps me going is the strength of the Lord and the daily laugh that comes from my own inner dialogue.

:::Just Have To Laugh:::

For example, I sat down the other day for breakfast and nicely piled next to my cereal bowl was a stack of six killed mosquitoes. It was the first time I had ever seen something so disgusting yet worth rejoicing. I laughed for a good three minutes at the sight. The mosquitoes here are more intense than anything I could have ever imagined. The campus sprays every night so usually the evenings are not too bad, but in the mornings the air is thick with the things and they flood every nook and cranny they can find, including the dinning hall.

The first day we loaded the bus to visit Quitman Elementary was quite the surreal sight. Here were forty intelligent aspiring teachers, rushing across campus loaded with their backpacks and lunch boxes, each possessing a tinge of fear in their eyes that they may miss the bus. Once all were settled in on the bus, I looked around to take in the scene. Most of my peers were sleeping either with mouth wide open, curled up in a ball on the seat, or with head bobbing up and down at each bump in the road.

:::Catfish Fry:::

The community has been so welcoming. At every turn there are signs welcoming Teach For America members. The surrounding towns have been so supportive and I am so thankful that I was placed in a rural region. The first Friday we were here a nearby town held a catfish fry. They set up a large tent right next to the Mississippi river, had a live blues band and cooked for us. It truly felt like the south.

I have gotten used to being sticky and realizing that people just don’t look too good in their clothes when they are outside. The humidity is so heavy here people sweat just by standing still outside.

:::Chocolate Mess:::

Having your birthday a few weeks after you move to a different state usually isn’t highly preferred. So when I found out two of my Delta friends had birthday’s just a few days apart from each other I volunteered to make them a cake. It proved to be a humbling yet yummy experience. We have a kitchen in the main living areas of the dorms, however no microwave (that I have found) and I do not have any cooking pots or pans. I started my ice-cream cake with excitement and a spirit of innovation. I was going to get this done and was going to do it right. Things were going smooth: -layer of angle food cake “check” -layer of crushed up Oreos in a torn Wal Mart sack “check” – Peanut butter “Check” –Ice Cream “Check” –floppy pan “check”. But then came the time to melt the fudge. I decided to melt the fudge on the stove top of the olive green electric stove. . . in the glass jar. Things were going well until I hit the jar with a knife and broke the fudge jar. Brown-gooey-goodness filled the inside of the burner. So they layer of fudge was out of the picture. So moving on I went to make the peanut butter ice cream layer. I bought a $4 mixer just to mix the peanut butter and ice cream together. Well, that little thing didn’t know what hit him. It was smoking within the first few minutes. People kept stopping in and saying, “Wow, it smells good in here, kinda burnt but good?” I just had to chuckle and nod.

A group of people got together to pray that Thursday night and we sang happy birthday and ate the beautiful ice cream cake. People said it was good, I guess you just can’t screw up something lacks so significantly in nutritional value. It was so refreshing to be around others and study the Word with them. These people have such a positive outlook and I was so encouraged. We talked about humility before the Lord and what it looks like to repent and be in awe of His love for us.

:::Back In Nebraska:::

I flew home on Friday out of Memphis, Tennessee. I woke up an hour after my alarm but managed to get myself to the airport on time. Driving, parking, checking in, and boarding all by myself made me feel so grown up. Teach For America sort of forces you to being grown up. It doesn’t really give you an option.

Either you are going to rise to the challenge or you are not. Flying by myself was just the icing on the cake. (Even though Sara booked my flights for me – I am still going to count it as a step towards independence) The flight from Memphis to Omaha only takes 1.5 hours. Quite the difference from the 14 hour drive. Saturday was my brother’s wedding. I got to hang out with my new sister-in-law as well as see a lot of family. It was such a beautiful wedding and I am so thankful I got to leave the TFA bubble for a weekend.

I broke down crying on Sunday night when I realized just how much I missed my family. There are so many days I want to quit TFA and move back to Nebraska. I miss my Dad’s hugs and my Mom’s laugh not to mention my grandparents, actually knowing people, my friends, and the security of my house. It was an emotional weekend. From the wedding to saying good-byes then coming back to TFA world to prepare for my first day of summer school. Oh, I pray the Lord gives me strength and joy for the last few days have been hard.

:::No One Is Good, Not Even One:::

This is what I have been learning. It is a look “under-the-surface” of the last few weeks. I will try to keep it short and sweet.

On the plane ride home I sat next to a nice man named Mike. Mike made the comment a few times that he thought what I was doing with TFA was generous and that I must be a really good person. All I could think about was that no one is good, no not even one (Romans 3:9-11) and that all my good deeds are actually like filthy rags in comparison to the Holy God that created me (Isaiah 64:6).

So, I started to think that this life is really all about humility. About being washed in grace. Knowing that I can’t do it and I don’t have to because He did it all. I do not do good things to be a good person. I continue to try to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord not FOR Him but BECAUSE of Him. Because He created me to be loved by Him and to rest in His peace. But that doesn’t mean that I continue to live the way that I did. If I really encounter the Crazy Love of Jesus I should live changed. I should be most satisfied when I am in His presence. It is just hard to remember this truth sometimes when the world is screaming at you and telling you to join in. Most things seem harmless but really are not in alignment with what the Lord has for me. If I have to choose an experience from the world or being satisfied in the Lord, I pray I choose the latter.

I heard a quote that if you leave somewhere after you “preach” the gospel and they still like you – you should ask yourself if you really preached the true Gospel. So I had to ask myself what is the gospel? Well, I am still trying figuring out how to put such a loaded question into words. I know that I have experienced a change and feel His hand on my life. So, this is what I have been thinking. This Holy God created us to be in a relationship with Him. But we continue to run from Him to things that cannot and do not satisfy. Everything in this world fades except His Love. So when we put ourselves up against this Holy God we should tremble with respect. Jesus Christ stepped in between us to bridge the gap that was impossible for us to bridge through good works. So it is through grace I have been saved and been given Life. Oh, how I pray that I would thank Him for His abounding mercy by the way that I live.

The past few days have been tough. I realized the first day teaching I was so worried about what I could control that I forgot to dwell on the Lord and be still. I had a migraine after that. I pray that He teaches me to love and that I would continue to be called out if I am ever judgmental or, on the other side, tolerant or intrigued by sin.

This may be a weird way to leave this blog, but I am understanding and learning more and more that I cannot do it on my own. There are some extreme moments of loneliness, stress, and confusion. But I know that the Lord is faithful and I pray that he goes before me.

Please Pray:

For my placement in the fall

My classroom of 1st graders: only 13 of the 24 have showed up

My collab group: may we have patience with each other and know how to encourage each other

Efficiency of work

Overflowing joy

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

God Is Faithful! Even When I Am Not.

*Sigh. Deep breath. Okay, where do I start? Today was the first formal day of Induction in the Delta. I am officially a member of the Teach For America movement one that now consists of over 7,500 teachers nationally with 550 in the Delta alone. My last week in Nebraska and the road trip down to Mississippi was full bittersweet moments. Below are just a few of them.

:::Pre- Institute Work:::

While reading through my Pre-Institute work I got a little nervous about the reality of the achievement gap in America. Before I started doing some research for and through TFA I was completely oblivious to the injustice many children face in the public school systems here in the states. Because of different socioeconomic conditions and low expectations many students are not given the opportunities other students get from a public school that may even be located in the same state.

Only one in ten students from a low-income school will graduate from college. Isn’t that just crazy to think about? Most students are reading two or three grade levels behind where they are supposed to be.

Here are some other thoughts I had while reading the text:

STEREOTYPES ARE THE SUFFICATOR OF DREAMS AND CATALYST OF LOW EXPECTATIONS. The biggest obstacle to a student’s success is actually low expectations. I must be aware of my conscious and my unconscious biases and expectations. I want to be able to push students to take academic risks and challenge them to be okay with failure. I know that I personally struggle with failure and that is why I often shy away from setting big goals. After reading this text though I see the importance of setting big goals and a plan to achieve them. I mean why try if I am only going to be apathetic about it. I do not simply want to survive as a teacher for two years. I want to excel. And how do I excel as a teacher? I push my students to excel. I don’t want to expect anything short of a miracle to happen in my classroom. I serve a HUGE and PERSONAL God. I pray and ask Him to take control and may I just be a warm body filling up a room, watching miracle after miracle happen as shackle after shackle breaks and eye after eye opens. May I see life come to these students as they begin to believe in themselves as well as something, or Someone bigger. I don’t just want to go down there and “be a social worker. And put shocks on their cars to make their ride so smooth”. Meaning I don’t just want to make their life here on earth or in school easier. I want to see life breathed into them through Jesus Christ. How will that happen? I have no idea. But I pray that it does!


I am horrible at goodbyes. Absolutely horrible. I know that often I disconnect from my feelings or just don’t allow myself to really think about what I am about to do…leave. This time was no different. I said goodbyes to friends and family and tried to spend time with the people I love the last week. It wasn’t until I was an hour away from Delta State that I realized that I was MOVING. I was not just visiting or taking a mini-vacay. I was moving to Mississippi and this was going to be my home for two years. It was then that I started to cry and really internalize the fact that I was now simply Nebraska grown. That was not my place of residence any longer.


The 14-hour drive was so refreshing and went by unbelievingly fast. The Road Trip Challenge was so helpful and a huge blessing. To catch some of you up to speed – The Road Trip Challenge was something I compiled for my own sanity. I facebook/emailed from friends and asked for some “challenges/dares” that I could do during my trip. I completed 16 out of 24 challenges during the two-day trip. Here is a list of a few of them.

DAY 1:

#1 – Drive for an hour in silence.

#6 – Pray with at least one random person along the way (this is a great story, ask me if you want to know more – God is faithful!)

#8 – Stop and dance on a country road (did this at the Iowa border!)

#23 – Listen to a podcast (I actually listened to a sermon on the radio and then an audio book called “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan… but I counted it)

#25 – For each piece of candy you eat, pray over a friend, enemy, or family member.

#16 – Put on some worship tunes and sing as loud as you can

#13 – Pay attention to the billboards and look for something a little bit different that they are advertising like “World’s Largest Pudding Cup”. It can be anything a little bit out of the ordinary or very out of the ordinary. Then go to it. (I went to an Amish Pecan, Jerky, and Cheese store… and an orchard)

#18 – Find and take a picture of a car for each color of the rainbow

#15 – Memorize a section of scripture (I reviewed the 30 day challenge verses… good enough?)

#17 – Thank God for something of every letter in the alphabet

#4 – Drive down the expressway for 5 miles with your head out the window (surprisingly refreshing: just wait for a strip of highway that is clear, roll down the window and drive. This made me laugh out loud)

DAY 2:

#12 – Pull off at the next rest area, set your camera on your car hood on self timer and take a picture. (Arkansas was beautiful!)

#2 – Pull off at the next exit and buy a thing of chocolate milk. Chug it in less than one minute.

#14 – Make up a worship song about what is on your heart.

#20 – Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through.

#24 – Call the 23rd person in your contact list on your phone (It was Ann Hershberger! I was so excited - and guess what else - she is also the 23rd contact in phone... yeah somehow she was a contact in her own phone)

One thing I had to be cautious about with the challenge was looking at it as a venue for God to work through. I saw myself wanting to make it a to-do list that I had to get done, but really it was supposed to simply make me more aware and open to the leading of the Spirit. It was not supposed o be the point… just a means to be open and willing to be stretched… while having a bit of fun! Ha


I arrived at check-in at about 4:30pm. I was covered in sweat due to the increased humidity down south and the lack of air conditioning in my car. While unpacking my stuff it was odd to find that my clothes were a bit damp from the difference in climate. I was overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness within the first few hours. There were so many people around me but I knew that they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. Oh how my heart ached for an honest friendship. Kelsey called and challenged me to go talk to people but all I really wanted to do was sit in my room. But after hanging up the phone and praying, asking God to grant me divine appointments, meaningful friendships, and a heart to love I headed down the hall. I just want to get to know and love the people around me.

God has truly blessed me and provided in immeasurable ways. I realize more and more how I need to stop worrying, for He truly has it all in control. One of my roommates is a sweat-heart from Alabama and a believer. She is so encouraging and we are actually in the same small group throughout the day. And last night I went for a run with another CM (Corps Member) down the hall. We had a really great conversation about faith and the Bible. She was so open and it was so encouraging to be with someone else who doesn’t claim to have it all figured out but really wants to know Truth. I also met a girl that knows how to play the guitar pretty well. I am excited because maybe she can help me learn more sick guitar skills while I am here for the next six weeks. She is such a humble, soft-spoken leader. I pray the Lord will continue to give me a servant’s heart and a spirit not of timidity but of power, love and self-control!


Interview Day = This Friday!

Praxis II Testing = Saturday Morning

A Heart To Love

Intentional Friendships